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Curé of Ars dinner recognizes those who show dedicated support of diocese, vocations

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The Curé of Ars Award dinner saw a strong turnout to celebrate the care of souls in the spirit of St. John Vianney. Nearly 450 people packed the Atrium at Rich’s on Sept. 30 to celebrate the work of Father Leon Biernat, Richard Heist and Michael & Maureen Pratt.

The annual dinner honors those whose lives reflect the qualities of Christian dedication and service that marked the life of St. John Vianney. The award is presented to individuals and organizations who are committed to healing those in need of God’s reconciling love, a willingness to contribute their gifts towards pastoral care and a commitment to the Church as a primary instrument for the divine-human encounter.

Bishop Michael W. Fisher makes a few closing remarks at the end of the Curé of Ars Dinner. The annual event raises money to support vocations in the Diocese of Buffalo. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Ordained in 1992, Father Leon Biernat has served as Vocation director for the Diocese of Buffalo, pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster, and is currently pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville. He has encouraged teens to become involved in Life Teen, Steubenville youth conferences, World Youth Day, and the diocesan youth convention.

“Throughout his priestly ministry, one of his primary focuses has been bringing young people closer to Christ and to His Church,” said Father Peter Karalus, vicar general, who served as MC. “Young people from throughout our diocese have benefited from his boundless energy, his zeal, his love of our faith.”

In accepting the award, Father Biernat pointed to a record number of people attending to support seminarians, deacon candidates and lay ministers, as well as his fellow recipients, as evidence that the Church is strong.

“I thank you for your support for the Church of Buffalo, because you have made the Church of Buffalo strong. Our Church is strong especially because of men going forward as priests. Our Church is strong because of men going forward as permanent deacons. And our Church is strong because of the men and women who serve in lay ministry and formation,” he said.

Unable to be there due to illness, Rick Heist, former executive director of Baker Victory Hall and Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity, asked his brother Steve to accept the award on his behalf. Reading his brother’s letter, Heist congratulated his fellow awardees.

“I am extremely humbled and deeply honored to receive this award with them tonight. St. John Vianney has held a cherished place of devotion in my home. Despite the difficulties and challenged in faith as a seminarian and later as a priest, he carried out his ministry with great humility, simplicity, compassion, dedication.”

The Curé of Ars Dinner met the goal of $10,000 thanks to generous donors. The funds will go towards educating lay ecclesial ministers. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

Heist visited Ars, France and prayed before the tomb of St. John Vianney.

“It was a very moving and spiritual experience. So, this award tonight, named for St. John Vianney will always hold a very special place in my heart,” he wrote.

Michael and Maureen Pratt are long-time supporters of the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo as well as the former Christ the King Seminary. Michael was instrumental in his role as seminary board member, in planning the next steps for vocations after the closure of the seminary. Together, they serve as Bishop’s Council of the Laity members.

Speaking for the couple, Michael called their work supporting the diocese a “labor of love.”

“We desperately need our priests, deacons and religious. And they definitely need us – the laity,” he said. “To that point, I found a quote from Bishop Fulton Sheen that summarizes Maureen and my efforts over the years, and with all due respect and reverence to our priests, deacons and religious, I quote Bishop Sheen. ‘Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests, not our religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church.’”

Bishop Michael W. Fisher closed out the evening with words of hope.

“All too often these days, whenever anything Catholic is discussed or reported in the news we tense up and perhaps even wince a bit, but admittedly, we have been in the news far too much for all the wrong reasons,” he said. “But what I find in my engagement, in my travels across the diocese, is that authentic Christian discipleship is alive and well in our midst. I am edified by the parishes I have visited by the commitment of our priests and laity and those who are truly committed to the mission of the Church. Despite the painful difficult challenges, you are working day and night to resolve it. The work of faith continues undaunted. This is what we celebrate this evening.”

By the end of the night, a $10,000 goal for supporting the education of lay ecclesial ministers was met through donation from those who attended the event.  

Father Leon Biernat, Maureen Pratt, Michael Pratt and Steve Heist join Bishop Michael W. Fisher and Father Peter Karalus as the 2021 Curé of Ars Award dinner begins. The Curé of Ars Award recognizes those with spirited care for the Diocese of Buffalo.
(Photo by Nicole Dzimira)
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